I’ve become friendly over the past few months with a black convert from South Africa who lives here. Really nice guy. My age. Fellow computer nerd. Ben Torah. His downside? He married a woman from France. Sigh, we all have to have something negative about ourselves.
Anyhow, after mincha on Shabbos, we were walking home together and I told him that I’ve been waiting all week to talk to him. And of course, he started to laugh, knowing exactly why I wanted to talk to him.
I threw him off a little though. I told him that I didn’t want to know his opinion concerning America right now (which turned out to be in line with my views). Rather, I wanted to know how did he, who lived through apartheid-South Africa as a black, get through it all and become a success. With the fall of apartheid, like any other societal fall, like communism or dictatorships, many in the black community either turned to crime or simply could not pull themselves out of their positions that they were originally put into. Yet, somehow, he really pulled himself out of it.
While there seem to be people (I’m speaking of the far-left, not the “black community,” since that’s what this is all really about) in America that are hurt by terrible and evil things like Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s Rice or a statue of Abraham Lincoln freeing a black slave (ironically, the statue was paid for by former slaves), this man really DID suffer. He suffered from real live and provable racism, not only on an individual level, but on a government imposed level as well. And I wanted to know what his secret to success was. His answer?
“I refuse to be a victim.”
For an hour, he told me of stories living there, England, France, and Israel. He told me stories where there was clear cut racism, where it wasn’t so clear cut, and where it wasn’t racism at all, but rather people being jerks. But his message was clear, no matter what or who he’s dealing with: “I refuse to be a victim.”
He explained that racism has always existed and will continue to exist because people are people. On some levels you can do something about it, but on others, there’s very little. You have to learn to know when to roll with the punches and when to take a stand. But, he said, you also have to know when something is really racist, or when it’s not and you’re using "racism" to cover your victimhood.
Over the past week, a few people sent me links to several black speakers, who started off in low-income, high-crime areas. (Thank you, by the way, it helped keep me awake during work.) The one thing that every single speaker had in common was the “I refuse to be a victim” mentality.
They realized that what they were told as they were growing up was not necessarily in line with reality. They started to think and break away from that mindset and began to apply themselves. They became businessmen, police officers, radioshow hosts, political activists, and my favourite, one of the spokesmen for the NRA. It seems that two things always stood in their way: 1) Their original mindset, and 2) Many members of their community who felt that they had become traitors. But each and every one of them took their lives into their own hands and built themselves up from nothing.
Rav Shlomo Brevda once told over a story that happened to him. (I wish I remembered which mp3 it was in so I could write his exact words.)
He was once asked to come to speak to a certain individual who left Judaism and was about to leave America for some foreign country. So, he came and met the person at the airport just to speak for 10 minutes before they left. He didn’t have some prepared speech, but he did say to them (this is not a direct quote, but from what I remember), “You should know that only an animal cannot change its inner self. A human being can always do so. So, if anybody tells you that you cannot change, then they are literally abusing you by calling you an animal.”
The person went on their way, and he went on his. A few months later, that person called their parents and told them that they were ready to come home. They couldn’t shake Rav Brevda’s words (and I assumed something happened to trigger that). At the time of his telling of this story, many years ago, he said that just recently he was at their “very normal, Jewish wedding.”
What is going on in America is not so much about racism, but rather deeper issues that are tied with politics, power, while using people’s emotions, lack of self-education, and social blackmail to drag people along. Right now, one can make broad statements about a group of people based on their skin-colour (as long as it’s the right one), and it’s considered true. Yet, if you dare utter the words “all lives matter”, you’re considered a racist. It’s very ugly and mixed up right now, and I for one, am happy that I’m not there.
However, there are lessons to be learned from this.
There is no real “everybody is equal.” We are all born in certain circumstances, in a certain wealth bracket, in certain neighborhoods, with certain parents, with certain talents and “non-talents.” Hashem put each and every one of us in our personal situation in order to grow. Of course, there are some limits. We might be limited physically, emotionally, mentally, and financially. Of course there will always be people who will try to stop us for whatever reason. But, we all have the ability to take what we have and make the most of it. Hashem did not put us on Earth to be victims to society or to ourselves, but to rather make the best of our lives with what we are given and achieve as much as we can with what we have.
Have a great Shabbos!